Western Atlantic bluefin tuna are sleek, torpedo-like fish that can power through the ocean’s depths at over 40 miles per hour. They’re top ocean predators, preying on mackerel, herring, squid, eels, and crustaceans, but they’re also some of the most coveted fish in the world. In fact, western Atlantic bluefin tuna have declined by more than 80 percent in recent decades from fishing activity, often caught as bycatch on longline fishing gear targeting swordfish along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. In fact, the Atlantic longline fishery has discarded more than 100 tons of bluefin tuna over the last five years.
But last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) took a step towards reversing the fate of western Atlantic Bluefin tuna by finalizing new regulations that help this population of Atlantic bluefin tuna recover. Under the new rule—part of the Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan—certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico and waters off North Carolina will be closed from longline fishing activity during the spring to season to protect spawning bluefin from longlines.
“This finalized rule is truly an innovative and much-needed approach to managing bluefin tuna bycatch in the swordfish longline fishery. Bluefin bycatch has been an ongoing issue for years, and has mostly been monitored through assumptions and guesswork,” Oceana’s Northeastern Representative said in a press release. “These new regulations will finally put hard limits on U.S. bluefin catch in the longline fishery and ensure accountability and consistency.”
In addition to the closures, NMFS is placing strict limits on bluefin tuna bycatch. After a fisherman reaches his individual bycatch quota, they will be banned from fishing, or must obtain additional quotas from another fisherman. Finally, NMFS will also require video cameras aboard longline fishing vessels in an effort to improve data collection. Currently, this type of data is only available through human observers on fishing vessels.
“Rebuilding bluefin stocks will take work, but if the government and fishery managers stay committed, fishermen will reap the benefits through large and stable future catches,” says Bronan. “Oceana is pleased that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted on our recommendations for this fishery.”
Earlier this year, Oceana released a report identifying nine of the most wasteful fisheries in the U.S. for bycatch. According to the report, the Atlantic Longline Highly Migratory Species fishery discards nearly a fourth of its catch every year, including hundreds of thousands of pounds of valuable species like bluefin tuna, swordfish, and sharks.
Oceana has worked for more than 10 years to reduce bycatch in a number of fisheries. Oceana urges fishery managers to adopt to Oceana approach to reducing bycatch: Count all catch (including bycatch), Cap bycatch using science-based limits, and Control bycatch through effective management. Click here to learn more.